Anti-Israel protesters take over library at Portland State University; group torches 15 police vehicles

PORTLAND, OR - For several days, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian protests took place at Portland State University (PSU). Around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, a group of those protesting left the campus and started marching through downtown Portland where many, dressed in all black, started vandalizing businesses in the area and then continued on to set fire to 15 police vehicles.

This week, a group called “Rachel Corrie’s Ghost Brigade” claimed responsibility for the fires set to the cars. On social media, the group said they anticipated police clearing out the occupation at PSU, so they cut through the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) training facility and set 10 fires, which ultimately spread to those 15 patrol cars. 

The attempt to stop the police was unsuccessful, as they cleared the occupation at PSU the same day. Further, the damaged vehicles were only used for police training, and nearby agencies have offered PPB the use of their training vehicles.

Rachel Corrie was a woman from Olympia, Washington who was killed in 2003 when she laid in front of an alleged Israeli bulldozer. She was apparently trying to stop the heavy piece of equipment from demolishing Palestinian homes in Gaza at the time of her death.

According to KOIN, not only did the protesters vandalize and damage property in downtown Portland, but one PSU student said they saw people in black outfits smashing the windows at the campus safety office and spraying graffiti on the walls of the building. Another student, Garbriel Elmosleh, who is a journalist major, recorded video of the protesters dressed in black taking hammers to the windows at a Starbucks.

KPIC reported that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) said that protesters damaged other businesses in Pioneer Courthouse Square, including the windows at the Starbucks. Some windows were completely smashed through while others were still intact, but tagged with paint. The nearby Nordstrom was also tagged with graffiti. 

Police said protesters targeted banks, coffee shops, cellphone and electronic stores, retail clothing shops and property at PSU, where anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian protesters have taken over the school's library. According to PPB, someone set off commercial-grade fireworks and police uncovered an undetonated commercial-grade mortar. 

After the protesters damaged the local businesses, many of them reportedly went back to the campus to "regroup," and that is when a woman, Eily, said that she saw people start fighting. She said that when she took her phone out to film, someone knocked her phone to the ground. The incident escalated and she and her boyfriend were allegedly assaulted by at least a dozen protesters.

She said, "They knocked me and my boyfriend to the ground and started kicking us and hitting us and we were kind of getting back up and some people came and repelled them, and they attacked those people. Everybody kind of scuffled for a while, and were standing back up and walking out of it and they attacked us again and took my bag."

Eily's boyfriend, Cletus, added, "We didn't come down here to vandalize or instigate, nothing like that. Totally non-violent, but when we didn't follow the directives then violence found us." While police have not yet announced the arrests of anyone, PPB said in a press release, "It is important to remember that although arrests are not always made at the scene, when tensions are high, this does not mean that people are not being charged with crimes later."

In a news release, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said, "The destruction occurring at demonstrations tonight is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Damaging property, making threats, and perpetrating violence are not acceptable, meaningful, or productive ways to make a point. These are destructive behaviors that harm community members and local businesses." He alleged that his office will prosecute cases related to the property damage.

Hundreds of people reportedly took part in the march. A flyer from the protest stated, "Class Struggle Workers Say: All Out in Solidarity With the Palestinian People!" Many of those marching in the protest wore black and held signs that read, "Free Gaza." While PSU will be open the remainder of the week, the library will remain closed. 

PSU President Ann Cudd said in a statement, "Finally, I need to be clear about the status of the Millar Library. Our library is closed. No one is authorized to be in the library. Tis included PSU faculty, staff and students. Anyone still in the library is committing criminal trespass and must leave immediately. Portland State University is cooperating with law enforcement on this matter."

PPB said that a lot of work is being done "in the background to find a resolution to this event," including de-escalation techniques and many attempts to begin a "dialogue with the participants." PPB Chief Bob Day added, "We will pursue all efforts at de-escalation, but make no mistake PPB will take appropriate action to do our part to hold individuals and groups accountable for their criminal conduct."

FOX 12 reported that the very next day, Thursday, May 2nd, over a dozen PPB patrol vehicles were damaged or destroyed in an arson attack at PPB's training facility. Officials said that just before 2:00 a.m., Portland Fire & Rescue and PPB officers responded to a fire at the training facility, and upon arrival found at least 15 vehicles burning. 

In a post on X, Chief Day wrote, "I am disheartened by the acts of vandalism over the last 12 hours. Damaging downtown businesses and vehicles at our Training Division is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I understand that people in our community are hurting, but in no way is property destruction a productive way to address that angst. I want the community to know these criminal actions will be fully investigated."

Cleanup of the occupation is ongoing at this time.
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